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FPJ Exclusive: Suryakumar Yadav better player of spin than Virat Kohli, says Mumbai Ranji-winning coach Sulakshan Kulkarni

07:59 PM Oct 22, 2021 | S. SUDARSHANAN

It’s a shot that you would never grow bored of watching. Kapil Dev’s pose in that shot is etched in memories, Sir Vivian Richards’ swag was incomplete without that shot. But if someone plays the Nataraja shot – moving inside the line of the ball, transferring the weight of the body on the back foot while lifting the front leg up, and setting the ball soaring over fine leg with a strong whip – well in current cricket, it is Suryakumar Yadav. The audacity, the belligerence, the class… Ufff!

Shots like these and, more importantly, the ability to hit them at will, is what has brought Yadav in focus, as part of India’s squad for the T20 World Cup. He finished a rather quiet IPL 2021 – his 317 were the least for him since 2017 – on a high, scoring a rollicking 82 off just 40 balls for Mumbai Indians against Sunrisers Hyderabad. He got just six in the first warm-up match in the T20 World Cup but showed his wares with a stroke-filled 38 not out off 27 balls in the second game on Wednesday.

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“Surya could always play his shots because his basics are quite strong,” former Mumbai Ranji Trophy-winning coach Sulakshan Kulkarni recalls Yadav’s first shot in international cricket – a Richards-like whip over fine leg off Jofra Archer – in a chat with Free Press Journal.

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“He reminds me of Viv Richards sometimes looking at his batting style, his swag, his confidence…”

Kulkarni foresees a good T20 World Cup for Yadav, if he bats in the top four, because of his game-play against seam and spin.

“Suryakumar Yadav should bat at three or four. He is a match-winner and the tracks in UAE will suit him. He has all the shots against spin,” he says before making a bold statement, “I think he is a better player of spin than Virat Kohli, to be honest.”

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“Kohli gets dismissed against leg-spinners in the IPL, and in this T20 World Cup more leggies will bowl googly to Kohli. And it is difficult to pick the googly off the white ball in night games. Yadav has the ability to pick the ball early and can play his shots. India will benefit with him in the top four.”

With Hardik Pandya not in his prime hitting form yet, India could well do with Yadav finding his mojo. However, Kulkarni has a word of caution for his “free-bird” as he had named Yadav.

“The strong point of Surya that could be his weakness could be that he tries to flick balls on or around off stump to the square leg region. He sometimes plays it early in his innings and he could be a candidate for bowled or LBW or can get caught in the deep. If he can avoid going across the line at the start and instead plays straighter, it will be better for him.”

As seen in the warm-up clash against Australia, once Yadav gets going, there’s no better batter to watch in the T20 World Cup. And much of his flamboyance and shot selection is thanks to what Kulkarni calls his X-factor – confidence.

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Sulakshan Kulkarni (extreme left in red) along with Ranji Trophy-winning Mumbai side including Suryakumar Yadav (extreme back) in 2012-13.

Picture this.

Ranji Trophy 2011-12. In their Group A clash, Saurashtra had posted a mammoth 580 against Mumbai, who were reduced to four for 30 in response. A 21-year-old Yadav had walked in at three for 24, when captain Wasim Jaffer fell. What then followed took everybody, except one, at the venue in Rajkot that day by surprise.

Yadav then began a classic assault, hammering a 77-ball hundred with 17 fours and three sixes. However, his 92-ball 111 couldn’t help Mumbai from avoiding the follow on. In the second innings, it was a more sedate knock with Yadav hitting 67 off 112 balls and helping Mumbai draw the match. The belligerent right-hander ended up with 754 runs that season, the most for Mumbai, fourth overall.

“His X-factor was his supreme confidence. Even now he is same like he was 10 years before. He looks flamboyant and that’s his positive thing,” the one unsurprised person, Kulkarni, says.

“I had seen him hit 75 on his Ranji debut for Mumbai against Delhi a year ago (before Kulkarni was coach) and he was batting against the likes of Pradeep Sangwan, Parvinder Awana and Sumit Narwal. I was thinking about the number of matches he could win for us.”

For India to dominate in the middle phase during the T20 World Cup, the assured smasher in Yadav needs to make a regular appearance. And rest assured, you would never get bored of watching his antics with the blade.

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